This completed project was a collaboration between BIFMO and the University of Edinburgh to gather data on furniture makers in Edinburgh and to map their locations on historical maps of the city. Aaron Allen, from the Institute of Academic Development at the University, with his expertise in Edinburgh’s social history, led the project. Three postgraduates and three third-year undergraduates brought both social historians and historians of art and architecture together to work in three teams (1750, 1800, and 1850).
The intentions for the design of the project were twofold; first and foremost was the production of maps with as much rigour and integrity as the data would allow. Secondly the project aimed to provide real-world experience of working on a heritage project for the student volunteers who would be processing the data to further their education whilst simultaneously providing new maps. For the mapping side the group collaborated with Professor Richard Rodger and his ‘Mapping Edinburgh’s Social History’ (MESH) Project, as his GIS research and tools represent the cutting edge of historical mapping in Scotland. They also collaborated with the National Library of Scotland, who allowed use of their world-class collection of digitised historical maps.
After considering what data was feasible to gather and where information on trades was available, it was decided to source the Post Office Directories, covering the period 1773 to 1911 (as digitised by the NLS), and the published edition of A Directory of Edinburgh in 1752, compiled by James Gilhooley in 1988. While the Gilhooley (1752) and Post Office (1801 and 1850-1) directories cannot be guaranteed to be 100 per cent accurate, they were the best sources available and it was consequently decided to map three time periods– 1750, 1800 and 1850. House-by-house precision was not possible because not all locations gave house numbers. The more impressionistic, street-by-street ‘bigger-picture’ was certainly afforded by the data available, though, and this is what we sought to map. L;
So, what can be seen in the maps? Firstly, by way of a caveat, the results are an impression only. Despite having good maps and directories, the data does not afford a perfect, crystal-clear image of exact locations. Secondly, the relative lack of clustering of furniture making is important. Finally, one element of the maps demonstrates an intriguing element of continuity, and this is the relative sparsity of furniture makers on the High Street.
Dr Aaron Allen